Court Digest

Federal judge rejects inmates’ lawsuit on execution plans

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit from two death row inmates seeking more information about Idaho’s execution plans.

U.S. District Judge David Nye ruled Tuesday that because Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. and Thomas Eugene Creech both have appeals pending in their criminal cases, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever face execution, meaning they don’t yet have standing to sue over the details of the state’s execution plans.

“The ultimate question of whether the two men will even be executed remains an undetermined and open question, rendering the claims in this case speculative and abstract,” Nye wrote.
Still, both men can sue again if they lose their criminal cases and are issued death warrants.

The men, both represented by the Federal Defender Services of Idaho, sued the state in March over what they said was a lack of information about how prison officials planned to execute them.
They said the lack of information violated their rights in several ways, in part because withholding the information prevents them from seeking legal remedies if the methods are likely to lead to botched lethal injection attempts.

The men noted that in the two most recent executions, state officials didn’t publish updated versions of their plans until just weeks before they were scheduled to occur.

“We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling and are evaluating our options,” Jonah Horwitz, the attorney representing Pizzuto and Creech, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray declined to comment on the case.

State officials have long sought to keep information about lethal injection drugs and their source secret. Prison officials maintain that releasing the source of execution drugs would make them harder for the state to obtain in the future.

But critics say the information should be released so the public can make its own decisions about whether the state is appropriately carrying out capital punishment. The Idaho Supreme Court is expected to rule soon in a separate lawsuit seeking information about the state’s lethal injection drugs brought by University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.

Pizzuto was sent to Idaho’s death row in 1986 after being convicted of murder for the 1985 beating deaths of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin where they were prospecting. Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, bound the victims’ wrists and legs, stole their money, then bludgeoned them both and shot Del Herndon.

Thomas Creech was serving two life sentences for a double murder in Valley County when law enforcement officers said he beat fellow inmate David Dale Jensen to death with a sock full of batteries. He’s been on death row since 1983.

Trial ordered for accused gun supplier in Kenosha killings

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — The man charged with buying the rifle that police say an Illinois teen used to kill two people during a Wisconsin protest over police brutality will stand trial, a court commissioner decided Thursday.

Dominick Black, 19, was is charged in Kenosha County Circuit Court with two counts of intentionally providing a dangerous weapon to a minor, resulting in death.

Commissioner Loren Keating determined there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed. A Kenosha detective testified that Black told him during an interview about how he purchased the assault-style rifle at a Ladysmith hardware store after getting some money from Kyle Rittenhouse, who at 17 was too young to legally buy a gun, the  Journal Sentinel  reported.

Black’s attorney, Robert Keller, argued for the charges to be dismissed or at least reduced to a single count, a motion Keating denied.

The weapon was stored at Black’s stepfather’s house in Kenosha until Black and Rittenhouse each took rifles downtown on Aug. 25, according to police records. Late that night, police said Rittenhouse fatally shot  Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz.

Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, attempted homicide, reckless homicide, recklessly endangering safety and illegal possession of a firearm. His attorneys say Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense.

His preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 3.

Appeals court vacates 16-year sentence of man in bomb plot

CHICAGO (AP) — A 16-year prison sentence handed a man convicted of plotting to blow up a Chicago bar has been thrown out by a federal appeals court.

The ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sends the case of Adel Daoud back to the U.S. District Court for resentencing.

The appeals court in its Tuesday ruling said the sentencing judge paid “lip service” to the seriousness of the crime and overemphasized Daoud’s immaturity at the time he was caught in an FBI sting.

Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman to impose a 40-year sentence while defense attorneys said Daoud, 27, should be released as soon as a mental health treatment program can be tailored for him.

“Daoud committed three discrete, premeditated criminal acts that exhibited an extraordinary disregard for human life,” Appellate Judge Amy St. Eve wrote in the opinion, joined by Judges Kenneth Ripple and Michael Brennan.

In addition to terrorism charges stemming from the plot to bomb the Cactus Bar & Grill in Chicago’s Loop, Daoud pleaded guilty to soliciting the murder of the undercover FBI agent who was the center of the sting and attacking an inmate while awaiting trial in 2015.

Daoud’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, in an emailed statement said the appeals court abandoned the precedent of deferring to the discretion of the district court.

Daoud is being held at the United States Penitentiary, McCreary United States Penitentiary in Kentucky.

Judge: Pandemic restrictions apply to gun show

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A judge on Thursday rejected a legal challenge from one of the nation’s largest gun shows to newly imposed pandemic restrictions in Virginia that will force cancellation of an upcoming exposition.

The Nation’s Gun Show is held several times a year at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, about 25 miles outside Washington. A three-day show expected to draw thousands had been scheduled to start Friday.

The show filed for an emergency injunction this week in Fairfax County Circuit Court after it was told that tightened restrictions imposed last week by Gov. Ralph Northam would limit the event to 250 people.

The lawsuit offered theories as to why the order exceeded the governor’s authority, but Judge Brett Kassabian rejected them all at a hearing Thursday morning.

While he said he was sympathetic to the fact that show organizers and vendors stand to lose millions of dollars, Kassabian said, “To allow thousands of people to roam unchecked in the throes of of the worst pandemic in 100 years is not in the public interest.”

The gun show can appeal the ruling.

The show normally attracts roughly 25,000 attendees who each pay as much as $23 to gain access to hundreds of exhibitors and firearms dealers.

A show held in August drew roughly half as many people, as managers limited attendance to reduce crowding and the potential for spreading the coronavirus. In their complaint, show organizers said they expected the upcoming show to be particularly lucrative.

“In recent months, the demand for firearms, ammunition, and related products and services has skyrocketed, fueled by intersecting scares over COVID-19 and interruptions in government-related services including policing, fears of demonstrations, rioting and social unrest purportedly in response to various police shootings, and a general sense of apprehension about the November 2020 presidential election and the future for gun rights in this country,” the show’s lawyers wrote in their complaint.

A lawyer for the gun show, David Browne, argued Thursday that the gun show should be considered a brick-and-mortar retail business, “just like the Walmart next door” to the expo center. Indeed, Browne said that was the initial determination made by local health officials interpreting the new restrictions.

But state officials say any event at the expo center should be considered an “entertainment venue,” a classification that imposes more severe restrictions that limit attendance to no more than 250 people.

Martine Cicconi, a lawyer with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office, said that a gun show is a place where people linger, congregate and discuss, as opposed to silently walking the aisles to make a purchase, and that it should be categorized differently as a result.

The gun show argued that the restrictions on the gun show violate state law and both the state and federal Constitutional protections on the right to bear arms. Brown said the case is similar to one in Lynchburg issued this year allowing a shooting range there to stay open. He cited a state law that explicitly bars the governor from using emergency orders to restrict the right to bear arms.
But Cicconi argued nobody’s right to bear arms is restricted; the order simply limits the number of attendees at the expo center.

Herring’s office has previously defended legal challenges to the coronavirus restrictions. While the Lynchburg gun case was an exception, the vast majority of cases have allowed restrictions to stand.

“This enormous gun show could have very quickly become a superspreader event and this win will help keep hundreds if not thousands of Virginians safe and healthy,” Herring said in a statement issued after the hearing.

State’s top court denies appeal in torture death

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — The state Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty imposed on a man in the torture death of a mentally disabled woman in western Pennsylvania.

A Westmoreland County jury had sentenced Melvin Knight to death by lethal injection in August 2013, but the commonwealth’s highest court ordered a new penalty trial in November 2016 after finding that jurors were not told that Knight had no criminal record. The justices said jurors should have been allowed to consider that as a mitigating factor.

The second penalty phase trial was held in 2018, and Knight again received the death penalty. He then appealed that verdict, claiming it was improper and that errors by Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway warranted the penalty be overturned.

In a unanimous ruling issued this week, the state Supreme Court rejected those claims, finding the verdict was fully supported by the evidence.

Knight, 32, of Swissvale, was one of six people charged in the February 2010 death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty in a dingy Greensburg apartment. Authorities have said she was beaten, tortured and stabbed to death before her body was tied with Christmas lights and garland, stuffed into a trash bin and discarded under a truck in a snow-covered parking lot.

Knight and another man were both sentenced to death, while the other defendants are serving decades in prison.

Slayer of woman, her daughter gets death sentence

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man who fatally shot a woman and then chased down her 11-year-old daughter and killed her received a death sentence Thursday, the first to be handed down in Palm Beach County in almost two decades.

Marlin Joseph, 29, received the sentence for the Dec. 28, 2017, murders of Kaladaa Crowell, 36, and her daughter, Kyra Inglett. He had been found guilty in February of first-degree murder and the 12-member jury voted unanimously last month to recommend his death.

Prosecutors say Joseph had been angry over an issue between Kyra and his daughter. Police say Joseph shot Kaladaa Crowell numerous times and as she begged for help, shot her twice in the head. He then chased Kyra outside as she fled and shot her five times, including three times in the head.

“Marlin Joseph, you have not only forfeited your right to live among us, but under the law of the state of Florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all,” Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo told him after imposing sentence, according to the Palm Beach Post.

The Post said the last death sentence issued in the county was in 2002.